W. Alejandro Sanchez
Updated version, January 2017 Providing for Peacekeeping Project
Part 1: Recent Trends
As a founding member of the UN, the Republic of Peru has maintained a continuous interest in contributing to UN peacekeeping operations. For decades, Peru has deployed personnel from its security agencies (Army, Navy, Air Force and the Police) to over 20 UN missions. The three major Peruvian deployments have been to the UN missions in Israel (after the 1973 conflict) and the ongoing operations in Haiti and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Peru has deployed hundreds of military personnel. Peru has also recently contributed to the UN mission in Central African Republic, MINUSCA. Peruvian contributions to other operations have been generally small, mostly military observers and small numbers of troops.
A Brief History
Peruvian military personnel have been deployed to 20 UN operations. The first mission in which Peru participated was the UN Observation Group in Lebanon (UNOGIL) in 1958. It also had a large contribution to the Second UN Emergency Force (UNEF II) and the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Middle East after the 1973 Arab-Israeli conflict. The Peruvian military contingent was deployed both in the Sinai Peninsula between Israeli and Egyptian forces, and then to the Golan Heights between Israeli and Syrian forces. The Peruvian deployment lasted two years and totaled 497 troops (with occasional troop rotations).
Peruvian officers have also achieved senior command status within UN operations. For example, Brigadier General Gastón Ibáñez O’Bríen of the Peruvian Army served as commander of the Brigada Norte of UNEF II, placing him in charge of the Peruvian contingent as well troops from other nations. Moreover, in 1992 Brigadier General Luis Block Urban became commander of the UN forces in MINURSO. Additionally, in 2008 Rear Admiral Mario César Sánchez Debenardi was appointed as Force Commander of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP).
Official publications like Peru’s 2005 White Book, published by the Ministry of Defense, as well as the ongoing major deployment of troops to MINUSTAH, which now include female military personnel, and MINUSCA demonstrate a current interest from both the Peruvian government and armed forces in being part of the UN peacekeeping operations. In fact, Chapter VII of the 2005 White Book encourages Peruvian participation in these operations, as it is regarded as a way for the South American nation to promote its international presence, while at the same time providing real-life training for its security personnel.
Peru has participated in peace operations almost exclusively through the UN. The one exception is Peru’s participation in the Military Observer Mission Peru-Ecuador (MOMEP). The mission was created after a brief conflict in 1995 between Lima and Quito over a territorial dispute between the two South American states. MOMEP’s goal was to observe the ceasefire between the two countries leading up to a final demarcation of the disputed border.
A Peruvian peacekeeping training center was created in 2003, known as Centro de Entrenamiento y Capacitación para Operaciones de Paz (CECOPAZ). Located in Ancón, north of Lima, this training center prepares Peruvian military, police and civilian personnel for deployment to UN missions, as well as the training of senior officers to become military observers. CECOPAZ courses are not just for Peruvian personnel; the center regularly carries out courses to train military observers from regional states (i.e. a 2012 course included officers from Argentina, Colombia and Ecuador).
Part 2: Decision-Making Process
Decisions for military deployment abroad are fundamentally political, originating from the President of the Republic of Peru in his capacity as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The Peruvian president is the policymaker responsible for signing the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Peru and the United Nations through which Lima agrees to deploy troops to a UN peacekeeping operation. This pledge is then approved by the Peruvian Congress via legislative resolutions and ratified by Supreme Decrees. The Peruvian Ministry of Defense (MoD) and the Joint Command of the Armed Forces are then tasked with organizing the personnel that will be deployed (i.e. choosing the most-qualified troops) and any necessary logistics (i.e. transportation and determining the necessary military equipment). The Peruvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and the Ministry of Economy and Finance provide support as needed.
Legislation that addresses Peru’s participation in UN peacekeeping missions includes the Decreto Legislativo N°1134 of the Ministry of Defense as well as Decreto Legislativo N° 1136 of the Joint Command of the Armed Forces. The MoD’s Directive is important as it explains the duties of the Peruvian Ministry of Defense, which prominently feature peacekeeping operations. For example, Article 5, section 25, explains that the MoD has the duty of consolidating and maintaining international peace. Meanwhile, Article 10, section 15, explains that the MoD and the MFA will supervise and foment the participation of Peruvian security personnel in peace operations. Likewise, Article 4.7 of the Joint Command’s directive explains that it is tasked with “planning, coordinating and carrying out the participation of the armed forces in peace operations.”
Furthermore, a significant development was the 2005 publication of Peru’s White Book of National Defense, which described the Andean nation’s defense priorities and objectives. The book was published during the presidency of Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006) and is an important achievement as it is the first time Peru has published a White Book. Moreover, Chapter VII of this document addresses Peru’s advocacy regarding participation in peace operations (see Part 3).
Part 3: Rationales for Contributing
National prestige: The Peruvian government and military regard participation in UN peacekeeping operations as a way to promote the country’s image abroad and to increase its international pedigree. Chapter VII of Peru’s White Book explains that participation in UN peacekeeping missions:
“Constitutes one of the objectives of our foreign policy and is of national interest, as it also provides an opportunity for the Peruvian government to have a relevant role in the international arena. Furthermore, [participation in UN peacekeeping missions] increases the high level of professionalism of the personnel of the defense sector. This participation in peace operations promotes international cooperation and confidence building mechanisms.” [Translation by the author.]
In addition, the Peruvian government and military are interested in providing UN peacekeepers to showcase the training and professionalism of their armed forces to the rest of the world. This is best exemplified by the events and ceremonies that are regularly organized by the Peruvian government and armed forces, in which the military’s participation in UN peace missions is highly praised. For example, senior Peruvian military officers gave a speech in during the 2009 ceremony in Lima to celebrate the UN Peacekeeper Day (May 29). Then-commander of the Joint Command of the Armed Forces, Army General Francisco Javier Contreras Rivas explained that “because of [the] capacity of the Peruvian soldier, the United Nations looks to … our country … because our soldiers of peace are men [and women] that work for a better world.” In May 2013, the Peruvian Ministry of Defense carried out a ceremony in CECOPAZ to honor soldiers that have participated in UN peacekeeping missions. Deputy Minister of Defense and Rear Admiral Sánchez Debernardi, who was the force commander to UNFICYP, highlighted the “professionalism” of the Peruvian troops. Such praise has been echoed by UN officials.
In other words, the leadership of the Peruvian military sees its participation in peace operations as a source of national prestige.
Economic rationales: The Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Economy and Finance are in charge of working out budgetary details regarding the international deployment of Peruvian troops. The allowances received by security personnel deployed in UN missions are significantly higher than the regular wages they would receive in Peru. Hence, the possibility of an additional salary via the UN serves as an incentive for Peruvian military personnel to apply to UN peace missions. The Peruvian government does not keep a portion of the money paid to its troops by the UN.
Security Rationales: These are not relevant as there are no UN peacekeeping missions near the country (the closest being MINUSTAH in Haiti).
Institutional rationales: These operations are regarded as an effective way to train Peruvian troops in different environments that they may not necessarily encounter at home. These institutional interests are exemplified by the creation of CECOPAZ to prepare troops for these missions (i.e. MINUSTAH and MINUSCA). According to its website, CECOPAZ’s mission is to train military, police and civilian personnel, as well as providing advice to the Joint Command of the Armed Forces in the realm of peace operations.
Participation in UN missions is also regarded as a confidence-building mechanism, as Peruvian troops form friendships and close relations with soldiers from other countries, both during deployments and during the pre-deployment training sessions. For example, Peru has built military relationships with Argentina and Chile on this basis. In October 2008, Peru and Argentina created a binational company of engineers, known as “Libertador Don Jose de San Martin,” aimed at carrying out operations in MINUSTAH. A December 2011 directive (called a Resolución Suprema) by the Peruvian MoD authorized a trip by a military delegation from Lima to Buenos Aires to take part in further negotiations regarding the future of the company, but this author has been unable to find more recent information regarding this initiative.
In addition, during a May 2013 meeting in Lima, the ministers of defense and foreign affairs of Peru and Chile, known as the Reunión 2+2, discussed the possibility of creating a binational unit of military personnel for UN peacekeeping operations. Nevertheless, as of early 2017, this unit has yet to be formed, most likely due to recent diplomatic tensions between the two governments over a maritime border dispute that was judged by the International Court of Justice (a ruling was made in January 2014).
Part 4: Barriers to Contributing
Strategic Priorities: This is best exemplified by ongoing rotations of military personnel to MINUSTAH since 2004 and MINUSCA since 2016. A critical factor that may affect current and future deployments is the internal security situation in Peru. The country is still battling a narco-terrorist movement called the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso). The insurgent group has weakened and fractured compared to its heyday in the 1980s. Currently, Sendero is split into two factions and has suffered several major losses in recent years, including the capture of its last remaining leaders.Sendero is believed to have only a few hundred fighters left, nevertheless, the narco-movement remains active and occasionally carries out attacks against Peruvian security forces (an April 2016 ambush by Sendero resulted in the deaths of 10 Peruvian soldiers).
In general, there is a lack of sufficient security personnel, both for the armed forces and police, to carry out their duties (i.e. internal security and to serve as a deterrent force). This is a source of concern for the population as the country still has to tackle internal security threats such as Sendero Luminoso and drug-trafficking criminal syndicates. While Peru does not possess drug-trafficking entities as widespread and powerful as those in Mexico, it is now regarded as the largest producer of cocaine in the world, making operations to combat cocaine production and smuggling a high priority. The country is also experiencing an increase in street crime (i.e. robberies and kidnappings).
Hence, it is a priority of the Peruvian government to increase its security forces to tackle the aforementioned domestic threats. This is best exemplified by a law that the Peruvian government tried to enact to create a military lottery, essentially a draft to increase the size of the armed forces. In June 2013, the Peruvian Supreme Court of Justice suspended the proposed law after complaints by the Public Defender and protests by civil society and opposition politicians who argued that the law is discriminatory. In addition, former President Humala has declared that the Peruvian police, which numbers about 106,000, has a deficit of around 30,000 officers. In other words, a major caveat to greater participation in UN peacekeeping is the current lack of sufficient security personnel that can adequately address Peru’s internal security challenges.
Resistance in the military: This is not relevant. Several senior military officers have declared themselves in favor of Peru’s participation in UN peacekeeping missions.
One major reason for this sentiment is that, in spite of operating in conflict zones, there have been no significant losses among Peruvian peacekeepers. Three soldiers lost their lives in 1974 during the deployment to UNEF II due to an antipersonnel mine while another soldier was lost during the UN mission in Mozambique, ONUMOZ. Most recently, a peacekeeper in MINUSTAH perished due to health issues in 2016. The minimal fatalities suffered in peace operations to date helps maintain support among the military leadership.
Damage to national reputation: This is also not relevant. Even though MINUSTAH had controversial origins, namely the overthrow of Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide in 2004, there has not been particular concern that Peru’s reputation will be damaged by participation in this mission. In addition, Peruvian peacekeepers have not been involved in human rights violations or other crimes during their deployment. The Peruvian media regularly publishes articles praising the participation of Peruvian personnel in UN peace missions (i.e. in the 1970s in the Middle East and currently in MINUSTAH and MINUSCA).
Difficult domestic politics: There has never been a national debate, either among the general public or among policymakers in the Peruvian Congress, regarding the country’s role in UN peacekeeping missions.
Absence of pressure: There has not been any pressure by international organizations or governments or the Peruvian military directed at the Peruvian government to either participate, or avoid participation, in UN peace missions.
Part 5: Current Challenges and Issues
The Peruvian government maintains a positive disposition towards providing peacekeepers. Nevertheless, security barriers remain a critical issue that arguably prevents a greater deployment of Peruvian troops to UN peace missions. As mentioned in Part 4, internal security remains a concern, given the ongoing operations of Sendero Luminoso and other drug trafficking syndicates (Peru is currently regarded as the world’s biggest producer of cocaine).
Regionally, Peru maintains generally good relations with four out of its five neighbors: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador. Tensions remain, however, with its southern neighbor, Chile, which date back to the 19th century War of the Pacific. In 2014, the International Court of Justice helped resolve a maritime border dispute between the countries. It is also important to highlight that tension between Peru and Chile cannot be overstated. While the two countries have generally strong trade relations and have carried out confidence-building mechanisms such as the attempts to create a binational military unit, distrust between the two governments, militaries and societies remains. Media articles and analytical reports were regularly published discussing whether one country could go to war with the other over maritime claims, while arms acquisitions by either side are viewed with concern.
With regard to the economy, Peru has enjoyed a positive decade, which supports the deployment of troops to UN missions. In addition, as noted above, military officers are interested in participating in UN missions, in part, for the additional UN allowances. Nevertheless, it must be stressed that Peru’s financial good fortunes are very recent. Factors like the Peruvian financial crisis of the 1980s and the slow economic jumpstart in the 1990s undermined Peru’s ability to produce military hardware, provide training and even the appropriate number of personnel. In recent years, there has been a program to acquire new platforms (including a new satellite, PeruSat-1, for its space program and a new training vessel for the Navy) but this has occurred at a slow pace. Moreover, the country still has internal security threats and, from the Peruvian perspective, an external one. Hence, the defense mindset among Peruvian policymakers and security officers is that additional personnel are needed first and foremost to safeguard the homeland.
Part 6: Key Champions and Opponents
There are no major policymakers or military officers who are particularly supportive or opposed to Peruvian participation in UN peacekeeping missions. Former President Ollanta Humala (2011-2016), a former military officer, has praised the participation of Peruvian security personnel in UN missions. The current head of state, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski has not reportedly made any major declaration for or against participating in UN missions. As previously mentioned, General Block, a former MINURSO force commander, has written articles in favor of Peruvian participation. Nevertheless, it would be an overstatement to label Presidents Kuczynski, Humala, or General Block as “champions” of Peru’s participation in UN peace operations.
Other senior policymakers occasionally visit Peruvian deployments to UN missions. For example Peru’s Defense Minister, Pedro Cateriano, visited the Compañia Peru in Haiti in December 2012, and expressed his support for Peruvian participation in the operation.
No Peruvian policymakers or military officers have made public declarations against Peruvian participation in UN peacekeeping missions. Apart from occasional mentions in talk shows and other discussion panels by security experts, Peru’s participation in UN peacekeeping missions has never been a controversial topic. This issue was not addressed in the debates over foreign policy and defense during the recent 2016 elections where President Kuczynski was elected. It is worth noting that in spite of the tragic loss of a number of Peruvian peacekeepers, a debate has not materialized within the Peruvian government or the general public to reconsider the country’s provision of UN peacekeepers.
The lack of a discussion regarding Peru’s role in peace operations exemplifies not only the lack of an opposition to these missions, but also the lack of interest or knowledge about them by the government and the citizenry in general. Events like the 2010 earthquake in Haiti raised the profile of Peru’s contribution to MINUSTAH, and, as mentioned before, the Peruvian media regularly publishes (brief) reports about Peru’s participation in UN peace missions. But increasing the country’s role in UN peace missions does not seem to be a priority for policymakers or military leaders in Lima.
Part 7: Capabilities and Caveats
Peru’s contributions to UN peacekeeping have increased in the past years, with a particular focus in MINUSTAH and, as of 2016, MINUSCA. At the time of writing, overall contributions close to 400 personnel are large for Peru. Nevertheless, MINUSTAH’s mandate is scheduled to finish on 15 April 2017. It is unclear if the Peruvian government will offer to join another mission with a large deployment of contingent troops, or if MINUSCA will remain the sole peace operation in which Peru will have a major participation.
It is worth noting that female Peruvian military personnel have also been deployed to MINUSTAH. This development was featured in a January 2011 article in Diálogo magazine, published by the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM).
As a final point, it should be clarified that while Peru has a substantial number of helicopters, they have not been deployed to UN peace missions. The one exception occurred during the Alberto Fujimori regime, but this transaction was marred by money laundering allegations. Russia recently concluded the delivery of a new fleet of 24 Mi-171Sh helicopters, however the platforms will probably be utilized for internal security operations rather than to be deployed to the UN. Peru has sent construction equipment to MINUSCA, as the engineer company is in charge of the construction and maintenance of roads and landing strips for planes and helicopters.
Part 8: Further Reading
Comando Conjunto de lasFuerzas Armadas. 50 Años al Servicio del País: 1057-2007. El Comercio (Peru). Suplemento Contratado. May 10, 2007.
 Unless otherwise stated, data is drawn from IISS, The Military Balance 2016 (London: IISS/Routledge, 2016).
 The IISS figure of 114 helicopters likely includes a sizeable number of helicopters that are no longer operational or are limited to training uses. A more accurate estimate of helicopters currently in operation by all three branches of the armed forces is 47.
Armed Forces Spending is a country’s annual total defense budget (in US dollars) divided by the total number of active armed forces. Using figures from IISS, The Military Balance 2016.
This past November, the Peruvian government and the U.S. Trade Representative Office (USTR) announced advances in combating illegal logging in the South American country. This crime hasintense repercussions for Peru, and the global ecosystem, and therefore calls for greater international attention. Increased cooperation between Lima and Washington is required, as many illegal logging shipments from the Andean nation are exported to the U.S. market.
In order to provide a proper idea of the magnitude of this crime, we will first mention some official data and recent incidents. According to Peruvian government statistics, in 2015 a total of 39,294.803 cubic meters of wood (or over 95 thousand trees) were extracted from unauthorized areas. Statistics are not yet available for 2016, but a few incidents prove this is a major ongoing problem.
For example, this past December, authorities in the Loreto region regained over 1,000 pieces of wood(types like lupuna, copaiba, quinilla, shihuahuaco –ironwood tree- and utucuro) that were being transported without proper documentation. That same month, security officers, aided by indigenous Peruvians, detained two vehicles that were transporting 1,120 feet of cedar wood in the Pasco region. This incident is particularly troubling because the cedar was illegally extracted from the San Matias San Carlos forest, an area under supposed government protection.
The problem is exacerbated as many shipments are transported and exported relatively easily. A September reportby the Peruvian dailyEl Comerciostated that, according to Peruvian authorities, between 2009 and 2016, 80% of 4,420 logging shipment inspections (to ensure that they were taken from authorized areas) had some sort of irregularity. The most frequent istimber laundering, namely the falsification of documents to make timber appear as if it had been legitimately harvested.
Further, in regions where illegal logging is rampant, such as Ucayali, seized wood can still make it into the market, as corrupt local authorities can falsify documents about the wood’s origin. This scenario is best exemplified by the April 2016 arrest of 19 members of a logging mafia, which included local authorities and security officers who worked with criminals to facilitate the export of illegal wood.
The U.S.- Peru Connection
As for the way the U.S. fits in this situation, according to a 2012 report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), up to 20 U.S. companies were involved in illegal logging that originated in Peru. Following this revelation, that same year the EIAformally petitioned Washington to “verify the legal origin of shipments from at least two Peruvian companies [Maderera Bozovich SAC and Maderera Vulcano SAC], and to audit dozens more.” One incident worth mentioning was featured inAl Jazeera’s 2015 documentary, Peru’s Rotten Wood. The film explains how a company called “Inversiones La Oroza SRL, is owned by the same proprietors of a timber concession, Oroza WoodSAC, that was cancelled in 2012 after EIA’s report illustrated that their illegal timber was coming to the United States.” That is to say that company owners can flout responsibly and create companies under different names after the originals are “red flagged.”
It is worth noting that a free trade agreement (FTA) between Washington and Lima has been in effect since January 2009. TheFTAis significant because it has asection directly addressing illegal loggingthat allows U.S. authorities to both audit and verify the origins of suspicious shipments. However, the U.S. did not invoke the procedures provided in the agreement untillate February 2016, when theUSTRrequested that Peru verify the legality of a single La Oroza shipment. Not surprisingly, in August 2016, the shipment was found to contain a significant amount ofillegally harvested timber.
While the aforementioned incidents explain why illegal logging in Peru has been so difficult to combat, the recent November meeting between Peruvian and U.S. authorities regarding this issue offers a glimmer of hope, as it is a sort of “next step” under the FTA framework. The meeting, the first since Peruvian president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski took office, thankfully did make mention of common goals, such as the much-needed modification of documentation of exports within the supply chain in order to increase transparency.
Nowadays, governments recognize that environmental crimes constitute a national security problem. Activities such as illegal logging, illegal fishing, or wildlife trafficking depredate a country’s natural resources, resulting in violence, loss of revenue for the state, as well as in the destruction of the environment. It would be wrong of us not to acknowledge that Peruvian authorities seem to understand this problem, as made clear in their statements and actions, including the 2015Legislative Decree No. 1220, which creates a legal framework to combat illegal logging.
Nevertheless, more success is needed. The amount of illegally seized wood over the past few years is alarming and Lima-Washington cooperation will be key to combat it under the 2009 FTAframework. It is imperative that U.S. authorities promote stricter regulation on the “demand” side of the problem to seize illegally harvested wood, and provide support to the Peruvian government and civil society organizations to help protect the South American nation’s rich environment.
W. Alejandro Sanchez Nieto is an international security analyst. Follow him on Twitter:@W_Alex_Sanchez
Brittney J. Figueroa is a recent graduate from the University of California, Santa Barbara with a Bachelors degree in Global Studies, and a Minor in Latin American Iberian Studies.
The views presented in this essay are the sole responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the authors are associated.
"Post Conflict Colombia: Demining the Battlefield"
W. Alejandro Sanchez And Brittney J. Figueroa
January 4, 2017
By W. Alejandro Sanchez Nieto and Brittney J. Figueroa. W. Alejandro is an international security analyst. Follow him on Twitter: @W_Alex_Sanchez. Brittney is a recent graduate from the University of California, Santa Barbara with a Bachelors degree in Global Studies, and a Minor in Latin American Iberian Studies.
Colombia is entering its post-conflict era as a peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC) has been ratified by the Colombian Congress, while talks with the country’s other insurgent movement, the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberacion Nacional, ELN ) will commence in January 2017. Hence, it is natural that analysts, including the authors, are discussing what the government’s priorities should be toward maintaining peace and bringing more development and justice to post-conflict Colombia. One issue that President Juan Manuel Santos is paying particular attention to is the removal of mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
The use of mines and IEDs is a standard tactic utilized by insurgent and terrorist movements worldwide (Hollywood brought this issue to light via 2008’s The Hurt Locker). When it comes to Colombia, it is impossible to adequately estimate how many mines, IEDs, and unexploded ordnance lay across the South American country, as we would have to combine those that belong to the FARC, ELN and now-defunct insurgent groups.
As such, possibly the best way to assess the current situation is by focusing on the number of casualties. In response to the problem, the Colombian government created an agency called Acción Integral Contra Minas Antipersonal (DAICMA) to track injuries and casualties caused by mines and IEDs. While overall incidents have significantly decreased since 1990, tragically, deadly explosions do still occur. For example, in 2013, two separate events of accidental mine explosions in Northern Colombia took the lives of two 13-year-old boys; one while he was walking with his grandmother, and the other during a school beach clean-up activity. Moreover, just this past November, Yisely Isarama Caisamo, a six-year-old girl from the Chocó department, tragically lost her life when she stepped on a mine. Her mother was severely injured as well, but survived. Mines have also taken the lives of animals: in January 2016, in the department of Cauca, an army dog saved the lives of 30 of his fellow soldiers when he stepped on a landmine covered by brush while attempting to secure the trail ahead.
When it comes to areas affected, most mines seem to be located in Antioquia, Nariño, and Meta.Acción Contra Minas, reports that from January 1990 to 30 November 2016, there have been 195, 121, and 63 deaths caused by mines in these departments, respectively. Of those 379 combined casualties, 106 were children. This is unfortunately not surprising, as these are areas with strong insurgent presence. The mine problem is exacerbated because areas with high amounts of mines are consistently found in rural areas where poverty, inadequate infrastructure, and lack of accessible healthcare are rampant, making it more difficult for injured people to receive quick medical treatment.
An Elevated Response
As the war comes to a close, President Santos is pushing for increased demining of the battlefield as exemplified by his 15 October pledge that in four years 21 million square meters will be cleared of mines and IEDs. In order to achieve this, the Colombian Army has created a brigade, Brigada de Desminado Humanitario, tasked with demining operations. Currently, the brigade stands at 500 troops, however the plan is to increase its number to a division, or 5000 troops, in 2017 and to double that number in 2018.
Additional troops are a welcomed initiative as mines continue to be found. For example, according to a 15 December press release by the Colombian Army, the 160th Battalion located and deactivated four antipersonnel mines in Cerro Guerrilla, in the Chocó department. The Army reported that the devices belonged to the Ernesto Che Guevara Front of the ELN.
Insurgent And International Support
President Santos’ pledge is important and commendable, and the tragic recent loss of a little girl due to an explosive, highlights the need to rid Colombia of these weapons in order to prevent further loss of life. Nevertheless, one important issue to keep in mind is that in order to achieve that 21 million square meters of clearance, the Colombian military will have to operate in territory currently controlled by the guerrillas. Hence, insurgent support will be instrumental in finding minefields, and other areas where IEDs are located, to speed up their removal. It is important to emphasize that a treaty with the FARC has been signed, but negotiations with the ELN are only starting, so it would be a gesture of goodwill by the latter insurgent group to begin helping demining operations.
We must also briefly mention the role of the international community in this process. For example, the Obama administration and the Norwegian government have launched the Global Initiative for Demining Colombia. Similarly, the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) is also operating in the South American nation. As for non-governmental organizations, one major example is the British-based Halo Trust that has operated in Colombia for years.
The authors suggest that U.S. troops could be deployed to Colombia to actively help with the clearing operations. For example, the 122d Engineer Combat Battalion or the 1221st Route Clearance Companycould visit the South American state and offer their expertise. These two units are singled out because they belong to the South Carolina National Guard that has been assigned to Colombia as part of theNational Guard State Partnership Program. A sort of joint-mining clearance operation between the S.C. National Guard and the Colombian mining brigade would help strengthen bilateral military relations while working for a noble cause.
The Woes of Chocó
In a July 2016 press release, Acción Contra Minas outlined its goals and achievements relating to the mine situation. Some of these victories include the announcement that five municipalities in four departments:two in Antioquia, and one each in Bolivar, Meta, and Santander, were declared safe from mine contamination. Additionally, it was reported that there are currently mine-clearing operations in three other departments: Caldas, Sucre, and Tolima. The government is also working with civil society organizations as well as non-governmental organizations like the HALO Trust, Handicap International, and Ayuda Popular Noruega (APN).
While the ongoing mine-clearing efforts outlined by Acción Contra Minas are valiant, and the victories admirable, it is worrisome that Chocó, the poorest and most underdeveloped department in Colombia is not on the Desminado Humanitario 2014-2016 Plan of Action demining priority list—a list that includes 91 municipalities in 13 different departments. In many areas, mine-related incidents (both injuries and fatalities) havegenerally decreased (e.g. Antioquia, Caqueta, Tolima), while the number of incidents in Chocó hasfluctuated. For example, between 2012 and 2014, the annual total of incidents went from 16, to 10,and back to 16, respectively. In 2015, there were 17 incidents, the highest ever recorded in the department. As for 2016, the number is back down to 10.
Although the mine situation is a result of the country’s decades-old conflict, the infrastructural shortcomings of Chocó due to state neglect make the clearance of mines a more complex challenge. According to the National Administrative Department of Statistics (Departamento Adminstrativo Nacional de Estadística; DANE), in 2015 the poverty rate in Chocó was an astounding 62.8%, with 37.1% living in extreme poverty.Given the current economic situation of Choco’s inhabitants, those injured by mines face extreme difficulty in receiving the support they need. Quibido, the department’s capital has but one hospital for 400 000 people. This problem is aggravated because the road system in Chocó remains inadequate, despite an improvement project that first began in 1967.
The continued presence of mines and IEDs has had a deep social and very human impact on civilians living in areas where mines have yet to be extracted; hence it is imperative that Bogota continues to deploy mine-clearing missions. It is the authors’ hope that in due time, Desminado Humanitario programs will accomplish the total clearing in Chocó so that the state can then focus on setting and reaching new goals of infrastructural development in the weary department.
Mines and explosives are nasty tools of war. They do not recognize friend from foe, civilian from fighter, young from old. They lay underground waiting for days, weeks, or years before they are ignited. Countries like Cambodia and Vietnam are still suffering from these unexploded weapons of war, and Afghanistan and Iraq will suffer the same fate. Sadly, Colombia will similarly have to live with mines and IEDs in the countryside for the foreseeable future, though the creation (and future expansion) of the Army’s demining brigade, as well as international support, will hopefully quicken their removal. Cooperation with the insurgents will be key to locate the mines and other explosives in order to avoid future loss of life. Mines, IEDs, and unexploded ordnance have no place in 21st century Colombia.
The authors wish it to be known that the views presented in this essay are their sole responsibility do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the authors are associated.
PS21 is a non-national, non-governmental, non-ideological organisation.